When a Golden Retriever named Jake lost his eyesight, his best friend Addie, another Golden, surprised everyone by learning how to be Jake’s guide dog.
Kim Atkinson’s family brought Jake home first and then Addie after their two previous Goldens passed away. But when Jake was only 2 years old, Atkinson began to notice that something was wrong with his eyes.
They took Jake to their veterinarian where they learned that Jake’s eyes weren’t producing tears. Over the next few months, the family tried many different medications to stimulate and replace tears, but Jake developed corneal abrasions. Surgeries followed, but they were all unsuccessful. “His eyesight was diminished because he was squinting so much, and he wasn’t able to open his eyes very far,” Atkinson tells This Dog’s Life.
When one of Jake’s eyes got to the point when it was about to rupture, Atkinson was forced to make a quick decision: to remove Jake’s eyes or to euthanize him. They didn’t know what to do. “We thought the surgery seemed so barbaric that we couldn’t imagine putting him through it,” she says. “We were heartbroken thinking of either option.”
They reached out to their Instagram community for advice about other dogs who had their eyes removed. “Most people we spoke to only had dogs with only one eye removed or their dogs were born blind, but they had so many helpful suggestions,” Atkinson recalls. They told her their dogs adjusted quickly after surgery and went on to lead normal, happy lives. Their vet reassured them that dogs rely more on smell and hearing than sight to get around.
“Ultimately, we couldn’t imagine not having our sweet Jake in our lives and wanted to do everything we could do help him,” she says. Both of Jakes eyes were removed, and the surgeon reported that when Jake woke up after surgery, he was already wagging his tail. “We think he was just feeling so much better.”
It took Jake a little while to adjust to blindness. That’s when their other Golden, Addie, unexpectedly stepped in. “Addie just seemed to intuitively understand that Jake was healing, as we’d often see her licking his eyes or resting her head on him while they slept,” says Atkinson.
As Jake learned to get around without sight, Addie instinctively knew exactly how to help him. The first time Jake attempted to climb the stairs to the second floor, he hesitated. “Addie went up ahead of him and looked back when she reached the top,” says Atkinson. As if she sensed his need, she came back down the steps, and Jake then climbed the steps beside her.” No one expected that Addie would decide to become her best friend’s guide dog. It was a magical moment that revealed the deep bond the two dogs share.
At first, Addie wore a little bell on her collar so Jake could always hear where she was, but it didn’t take long until Jake learned to use his other senses to track her. Now, the two dogs are inseparable — and sometimes, Jake can pay it forward. “When Addie can’t reach or find a toy, Jake is right there and finds it before she does,” says Atkinson.
“Jake has exceeded anything we could have imagined before his surgery,” she says. One of his favorite things to do is to romp around off leash at the lake because it’s a wide-open space where he can run without getting hurt, and he loves it. “He’s even chased deer! He’s in his element outside and even went swimming in the ocean with his life jacket last summer. He truly is so happy,” she says.
The family saw Addie help Jake in the weeks immediately following the surgery, but they never had any expectations of her being a “service dog” of any kind for Jake. That’s what makes the bond between the two dogs so special: no human had to train Addie to help Jake.
“They aren’t ‘a blind dog and his helper’ to one another, but simply two dogs with different abilities who are each other’s best friend and playmate,” says Atkinson.